“When you come together.” Five times Paul says this in our text. When you come together. How much have we longed for that, and many of us at home still long for that. We feel it in our souls, that the way things are just isn’t how they should be. Where two or three are logged in together just isn’t the same as where two or three are gathered together. The novelty is wearing off of Sunday mornings in pajamas or sweatpants, with a cup of coffee, trying to sort of sing along and praying the sermon will stop buffering. We are thankful for the gift of the internet and live-streaming and for Rob Hilverda, but this is not what it means when Paul says, “when you come together.” Online church is better than no church, but it is a poor substitute for the real thing. And even for us gathered here, it still is lacking something when everyone isn’t here, we are split up between two services, the “As” never get to see the “Vs”, we have to sit apart and go outside without chatting in the narthex. And communion will be yet another adjustment. I have to keep reminding myself that countless millions of Christians have suffered far greater inconveniences and for far longer. We should be slow to complain, but we also should not just settle for this without praying for a time when we will all come together. May we long for and pray for when we can all come together as the church. One of the great mysteries of our faith is that the living God of the universe desires and seeks to have fellowship with His people and one of the great symbols of the fellowship is the joyful experience of sitting down and eating and drinking in the presence of God.
You have heard of the song that does not end. Well this sermon series on preaching the Gospel to ourselves may seem like the Lenten sermon series that does not end. This series has been like going into a mine and finding a vein of gold and start digging. That vein leads to another one a little deeper, and then another one, and another one. And here we are several months later still digging, still uncovering nuggets, truths. But today we come to the end, where I sum up what we have been talking about when we say we should preach the Gospel to ourselves every day. One of the main points I have tried to make over these many weeks is that the Gospel is not a one-time thing for when we get saved. We never outgrow our need for the Gospel, it has everyday relevance for all of our lives. We never mature past the point of needing to know how the Gospel applies to every situation and circumstance in our lives.
If you were a random unbeliever reading through the Bible for the first time like it was any other book, there’s a chance you might wonder what all the fuss was over Jesus’ resurrection. I mean, its not like it was the first time someone came back from the dead. So, what’s the big deal? In the OT there are three resurrections all during the prophetic ministries of Elijah and Elisha. In I Kings 17 Elijah raised the son of the widow of Zarephath. Elisha, who is said to have a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, raised two people. In II Kings 4 he raised a Shunammite’s son and in II Kings 13 a corpse came to life when it touched Elisha’s bones. Then in the Gospels there are three resurrections. Jesus raised the son of a widow in Nain (Luke 7), Jairus’s daughter (Matthew 9), and Lazarus (John 11). Jesus’ resurrection is the seventh resurrection recorded in Scripture. So, what’s the big deal? Well it is a big deal because the others are nothing like Jesus’ at all. It is one of a kind.
How many of you aspire to be a preacher? Any of you want to be a preacher when you grow up? Can any of you picture yourself as a preacher? OK, let me ask a different question. How many of you have worries, fears, doubts, anxiety, nagging concerns, negative thoughts, self-pity, self-condemnation? How many of us are ever worried or stressed about our lives, our families, our finances, our futures, our health, about some situation or relationship? Guess what, you are already a preacher and just didn’t know it. All of us are preaching to ourselves all the time. All our worries, fears, doubts, lingering anxiety, feelings of impending trouble or doom, are all a kind of false gospel that we all preach to ourselves. It starts as soon as we wake up with the troubles of the day facing us, and it is the last thing we do as we fall asleep. Every quiet moment can be interrupted with a cycle of negative thinking and self-talk.
In the first half of last century two chilling novels were written predicting what the future could look like. In 1932 Aldous Huxley published Brave New World and in 1949 George Orwell published 1984. They gave two very different pictures of what the world and culture would become like. In Orwell’s prophecy the world is ruled by Big Brother and controlled by Thought Police. Picture communist controlled counties like North Korea or China or Russia. Huxley’s was different. Listen to Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. vii-viii: Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, [amusing ourselves to death with an] almost infinite appetite for distractions. In 1984 people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us. People might rise up against a culture of oppression and coercion, but who will rise up against a culture of pleasure and entertainment and mindless amusement? Consider this sermon one small attempt to wake us up out of our stupor and equip us for some form of resistance before we make shipwreck of our faith.
What if Easter is really just the world’s biggest April Fool’s Day joke? What if is all just a big lie? What if the really smart people in the world are right? What if Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan and Bill Nye the Science Guy are all right and there is no one out there and there is nothing after death? What if John Lennon was right and there is no heaven above us, but only sky? What if Karl Marx was right, that religion is just the opiate of the people, something dreamed up to make us feel better and take away the fear of death? What if the opioid crisis in American is Christianity? Paul raises that question in I Corinthians 15:12-19 and says if Christ is not raised from the dead then we are all fools and our faith is in vain.
This morning we come to the final of the nine fruit of the Spirit, self-control. In Proverbs, we read: Proverbs 25:28 A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. In ancient times the walls of a city were its primary defense. Without walls, it was prey to enemy invaders. This is a picture of utter vulnerability. Proverbs uses this same image to describe our souls. Self-control is the wall to our hearts and souls, the means of waging war against the sinful desires that attack us from all sides. Without self-control, every temptation becomes an opportunity for sin.
Lent is a penitential season when some Christians take stock of their spiritual lives. Think about how a doctor asks us questions about our diet, what we eat and drink, habits like smoking, caffeine and alcohol intake, do we exercise. We don’t mind him asking too much, it’s a bit personal but we know he is asking because he cares about our health and he is probing to find areas of concern and suggest steps to improve. But what about when the pastor asks about our spiritual health, what if he raised a series of seven serious spiritual concerns, how would we respond to that kind of probing? My desire in our series on seven serious sins is our spiritual health and well-being. We can’t grow in love and faith and fruitfulness when there are obstacles and hurdles in the way. So we are knocking down seven of those this Lent. Are we humble and open to the sanctifying work of the Spirit to open our eyes and expose the iniquity in our hearts. My prayer this Lent is this will be for us a path to forgiveness and freedom and joy.
The Personal Spirit. Someone asked Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, if God existed. He replied, "The question is not relevant. If there were a God, man could not comprehend him anyway. So what good would it be to have such a God?" He believed there was no way for God to be personal and knowable. He is not alone. When Hindus or even some Jews talk about God they are thinking of an influence or an impersonal force or an energy source of some kind that radiates from some place out there. Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons think of the Holy Spirit as like magnetism or electricity or gravity. They aren’t thinking of a person with personal characteristics and personality. Whatever it is it’s impersonal, without knowledge or emotion. The idea that there is a God and that this God is a personal God is foreign to all other religions. It’s one thing to consider God is a spirit, but to consider Him to be a personal Spirit is an altogether different matter. That’s a game changer. I know that we don’t generally think of the Bible as having much comedy in it but the one place you find it is in the prophets when they write about other gods and idols. They use a mocking and sarcastic tone as they make fun of people worshiping objects they have made themselves.